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What do we wear?

Picture of Morris Man The 'kit' which a Morris man wears is unique to the 'side' and also tends to reflect the style of Morris which the side dances. Cotswold Morris (the tradition which is based mainly on dances originally found in the villages in and around Oxfordshire), Border Morris (from the Welsh borders) and North West (from the North West of England), Rapper Sword and Long Sword are the most popular styles. 1. The Hat (if worn)
When worn, the hat is usually made of straw and decorated with fresh flowers ( Cotswold Sides ) or a bowler shape with either fresh or artifical flowers (North West) or maybe a top-hat. There are others, watch out for them. Bald wigs are not part of the kit - it's just that some of the dancers are a bit short of hair!
2. The Baldrick
This is usually taken to originate from the way in which the sword was carried, using crossed-straps over the body. The Morris Baldrick is the main identifier, particularly of Cotswold sides.The colours together with the central emblem/badge are unique to a side - the badge often identifying some feature from the home area of the side - Whitchurch feature the church, not surpisingly,in Whitchurch.
3. Breeches/Whites
Morris sides are normally split between those who wear 'whites' - white long trousers (not cricket whites which, strangely enough, are really cream) and breeches - knee-length trousers (balck is the most common) worn with long socks (usually white).
4. Handkerchiefs and Sticks.
Handkerchiefs waved during some of the dances are supposed to ward off evil spirits and are not for blowing your nose on! They are mainly white but sometimes you see other colours, particularly if the dancer or performer is a 'fool'. When not in use they are often tucked into the belt for storage.
The sticks are used in other dances and are a sword replacement. Some dances use long sticks and others short ones, some use one and others two. In the wrong hands, sticks can be dangerous!
5. The waistcoat
Not all Morris sides include a waistcoat in their kit. Cotswold sides usually use a plain waistcoat, often bearing an emblem representing the badge of the side on the back and sometimes covered in button badges gathered from all sources. Border sides have a 'tat' waistcoat consisting of shreds of coloured cloth sewn together. Whitchurch has the church on the back - if you see us then look at the time on the church clock - every man has his own time!
6. The important part - the Bells.
These are worn on a pad strapped below the knee and make that unique sound which will identify the presence of a Morris side in the area! Rumour has it that they are supposed to ward off evil spirits. Oh! and yes, we do know the one about the blind football players with a bell in the ball!

What are the characters?

If you have seen Morris sides out dancing then you may well have seen an additional member of the side out entertaining the public with their antics - the Animal or Character.
There is not enough space here to give anything more than a short taster of the wide variety of these wonderful additions to the tradition.

The Hobby Horse. hobby.gif - 3541 Bytes You could be forgiven for thinking this is just a man inside a wooden horse running around but these strange creatures are mostly harmless - they just forage for any food they can get. If you see one, please feed it - its diet is simple, just the odd coin or two will keep it happy. The Green Man. greenman.gif - 4273 Bytes The bridge between nature and man. Often found communing with nature lying on a pub lawn or hiding in the bushes looking for his tankard. Always offer a drink when you see one - it is lucky ( particularly for the Green Man). The Betty. betty.gif - 4545 Bytes The man/woman creature whose origins are lost in time but if you see one and find her strangely attractive, there is only one thing to say - go home and sleep it off! The Fool. fool.gif - 3339 Bytes A good fool is usually the one you see 'fooling around' with the bladder on a stick ( not his own bladder of course!). In a way, his task is to make sure the audience is paying attention but it can be the hardest task of all since a competent fool will often dance in ( or around ) every dance and entertain in the intervals which is more than an individual dancer usually does. Some fools have party tricks like fire-eating or juggling. Various. animal.gif - 4629 Bytes Animals, unicorns, horses, cows, foxes and all sorts. Now you and I know they are just men inside a costume but when you see one you will find it hard to believe - they take on a complete new identity when they are in there!
What is the music played on?

It is quite surprising what you see being played for Morris but there are a number of common instruments which are regularly used. This is not meant to be a definitive list but just a guide.

The Melodeon. melodeon.gif - 9626 Bytes This is one of the common Morris instruments - it has been around since the 19th century and was a development of the mouth organ (with bellows!). It is a diatonic instrument- it plays in a set key rather than chromatic like a piano accordion which can be played in any key. Melodeons come in many varieties, one two or three rows ( one key to each row ) some with 'accidentals' which in practical terms means the notes you can't get on the main row are in a separate row on their own. Morris melodeons usually come in D/G which means the outer row is in the key of D and the inner row is in the key of G. Each button plays a different note when the bellows are pulled than when they are pushed which makes for an interesting time but is great for music with 'lift'. Sometimes you can find a note on the other row but often you end up leaving it out! The left hand keyboard has a number of buttons covering bass and chords in the key(s) of the right hand keyboard - this limitation can give a good rhythm but is often overdone giving a 'pedestrian' sound! Melodeons are produced in a number of countries but you are most likely to see German or Italian instruments, though there are English, French and Irish versions in various keys available. The Anglo Concertina. SAnglo.gif - 8605 Bytes Basically, the Anglo version is a diatonic instrument, a bit like a 'folded' melodeon ( not literally! ) where each button can play two notes, one on the push and one on the pull. The lowest notes start with the left side and the highest on the right. The English Concertina. SEnglish.gif - 7816 Bytes This concertina is chromatic and each button plays the same note on both push and pull. Most concertinas date from the early part of the 20th century or earlier and can be valuable instruments. The two main makers where Wheatstone and Lachenal but there were others; the history is quite fascinating, and is worth investigating if you are interested. There are still makers today, Hohner and Gremlin names are often seen. English concertinas didn't just come in the size you see generally, there were different sizes and tuning, such as baritone, often used in the concertina bands that were popular during the mid part of the 20th century. Other concertinas/general.
There are other variations of concertina with different button layouts and tuning as well as wood or metal ends, bone or metal buttons, brass or steel reeds. Since many of these instruments were made at the end of the 19th century and are normally well looked after, they can be quite expensive to buy.
The Accordion. SAccordion.gif - 11489 Bytes The piano accordian is a familiar instrument and is common in the folk tradition. It has the major benefit of being capable of covering any key. There are a number of sizes, the larger ones having more notes, particularly for the left hand giving a greater flexibility of sound. The worst part of the accordian is its weight - just ask a Morris man carrying one around. These instruments are mainly German or Italian and in various sizes, normally referred to in terms of the number of left-hand buttons , e.g. 80 bass.
The button accordion, common in France, is similar but instead of piano keys, the buttons are just that and as such they are often confused with the melodeon. However, the button accordion is a chromatic instrument just like the piano accordion but with the buttons laid out in rows the playing style is totally different and suits the French style of music. It can be used for the Morris but is much less common.
The Pipe and Tabor (Whistle and Drum). pipeT.gif - 9790 Bytes This is one of the old Morris instruments and is highly prized, when played properly, for keeping time and the men under control. The pipe has three holes, one underneath, unlike the more usual 'tin' whistle and so is a little restricted in range - it is tuned to one key. This is why pipe players tend to carry a number of pipes in various keys. The Pipe and Tabor has its historical roots in the Military.
The Violin/Fiddle. violin.gif - 4617 Bytes This is an excellent Morris instrument in the right hands, musical and capable of 'drive'- it is also chromatic so can play in any key. Its main disadvantage is that it is not very loud outside and for this reason you often see the violin attached to a small amplifier. The folk fiddle is one of the most popular instruments in folk bands - Thomas Hardy was a highly talented fiddler. Other instruments.
Instruments seen playing for the Morris include the most diverse range you can imagine but generally, these are used in addition to the other instrument(s) as backing or as a feature. These include electic guitars, trombones, saxaphones, triangles, tubas, comb-and-paper and even a hose-pipe with funnel!! Not for the faint-hearted.
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16th May 2024
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